How I, and thousands, tried to become an idol

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How I, and thousands, tried to become an idol


Thousands of wannabe superstars pack Jamsil Arena on July 3 to wait for their chance to audition for the third season of “Superstar K,” a Korean talent show similar to “American Idol.” [YONHAP]

The rain is torrential as I stand outside Jamsil Arena in southern Seoul. I am anything but alone. Thousands of people are getting drenched with me, and security guards have given up on trying to control us because they too are soaked.

“Don’t ask us how many people are here today,” shouts one agent with a hoarse voice and hair plastered to his head.

It is 10:15 a.m. on July 3, just 15 minutes after MNet has opened the doors to the stadium to let wannabe superstars audition for the third season of “Superstar K,” a Korean talent show similar to “American Idol.” Lines of soggy contestants circle the stadium.

At the stadium’s entrance, I meet one of the young assistants, no older than 21, and she hands me a giant sticker with a number written on it: P-280. For the next eight hours, that will be my identification, as I too try to find stardom through the magic of a reality show.

“Superstar K” kicked off reality-show mania in Korea, and there are now a slew of imitators. Most have a survival format in which contestants vie against each other to come out on top, win prizes, and more than often, get a job that comes with public recognition from being on-air. For those aspiring to become news anchors or even chefs in Korea, a reality show is the kick-start to success.

I wanted to try my hand, but also see what the process was like for people who put all their hopes and dreams into one audition that can change their lives - hopes that can’t be quashed even by biblical downfalls of rain. The number of such hopefuls was by no means small. According to MNet, roughly two million people auditioned for season three of “Superstar K.”

A few weeks before, I entered the initial round of the “Superstar K” competition by uploading on MNet’s Web site a 90 second clip of me singing Etta James’ “At Last.” It had been grueling to select the right song. I even resorted to Google for inspiration, typing in the keywords “female audition songs.”

The video was posted in early May and the Web site informed me I would receive the results of my audition within two weeks.

But two weeks passed and my clip was still being “assessed,” according to MNet. It was obvious from the start that the company was overwhelmed by the number of auditions they received. Curious to see if there were others in my situation, I checked out the “Superstar K” community board on the site, and sure enough, many people posted and desperately demanded the results of their audition clips.


Christine Kim

A few more days passed, and while at work, I logged onto the Web site and saw I had passed the first round. The news quickly spread through the office and, appropriate to the occasion, I posted the news on my Facebook page.

Now I had to get ready for round two: an honest-to-God in-person, face-the-judges audition.

I had roughly a month. “Superstar K” auditions are held across the nation in major cities like Busan, Daejeon and Daegu.

The regional auditions took place earlier than the Seoul auditions, which were scheduled as the final part of the second round. Because 43 percent of the 2 million contestants were in Seoul, auditions were divided over the weekend of July 2 to July 3.

I have been called for the final day. A half hour after the gates were opened, the line of contestants is ushered to seats and I am overwhelmed by the number of people in the stadium. I park myself in a tiny plastic seat on the arena’s third deck and have a pretty good view of what is happening.

There are 27 booths in the stadium: 26 booths labeled from A to Z for solo or duet applicants, and a bigger booth labeled “GR” for bands.

Because the GR booth is the only one with a keyboard, solo applicants who want keyboard accompaniment go there. Booths X, Y and Z are reserved for applicants over the age of 30.

There are many teenage girls and boys chatting excitedly about the “potential they had.” Some contestants are accompanied by parents, girlfriends or boyfriends, or friends complimenting them on their hair or make-up.

“I am so nervous,” says one girl in her early teens.

She dabs liberal amounts of mascara onto her eyelashes while peering into a large, plastic mirror the size of her seat.

Minutes past 11:00 a.m. an MC walks out and starts explaining the audition process. Each contestant has less than 100 seconds to sing, and those who prepared songs in a foreign language are required to have a backup in Korean ready.

For the next hour, one of the directors shouts commands at the crowd to wave in unison, and they film us for the first episode. Applicants cheer, scream and wave.

Filming ends and the auditions commence. Two-hundred sixty people are called to the stadium floor at a time in 20 to 30 minutes intervals.

According to MNet, contestants would be given one of four grades: A, worthy to be in the final top 10; B, decent enough to make it to the third round; C, shows potential but not enough for the third round; and F, a flunking grade.

As soon as the first numbers are called, people who knew they had to wait pour into the hallways and light cigarettes.

The smoke blows into the audition area to form a hazy cloud obscuring my view and reminds me of fire alarm exercises that emphasize how smoke rises.

I find an empty seat on the second tier and wait. And wait.

There are 50,000 participants that day. Some sleep in their seats, while others practice their songs in the halls and restrooms.

Two men in their early 20s practice in the seats behind me, giving each other tips.

Others can be seen worrying about how to describe their lives on the application form, which they have to bring with them into the audition.

The form requires you to describe the happiest and saddest moments of your life, and naturally, your favorite Korean singer.

Around 6 p.m., my number is called and I line up at booth P. With a few covert glances at the application forms of the people in my line, I note that everyone is younger than my 26 years.

The assistant at booth P is friendly and gives us some unsolicited advice: “Just sing the chorus of your song.”

The contestants before me are in and out of the booth within 10 to 20 seconds. I go in to face two judges: one older man with curly hair and glasses and a younger female.

Behind them is an all-seeing camera that records the auditions, which will later be distributed to major entertainment companies around the country.

After singing small portions of two songs - Journey’s “Open Arm” and Boa’s “My Prayer” - I am politely told I can leave. The male judge gives me a small smile. It’s all over in 30 seconds.

As I leave the stadium, I am filled with a strange sense of freedom and even some sympathy for the judges, who will be at the stadium until late in the night listening to the thousands of contestants that will follow me.

MNet said that between 80 and 160 out of the 80,000 who participated in the Seoul auditions will go on to the next round, and considering my rushed audition, I wonder if they are really choosing the most talented, or those with sob stories compelling enough to boost ratings for the cable channel.

Whoever they are, they will go onto the third round without me. If I was successful, I was supposed to get a telephone call four days later. The call never came.

By Christine Kim []

한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]

‘8시간 기다려 100초 기회 “아~ 떨려”’ 기자의 ‘슈스케3’ 예선 참가기

'슈퍼스타K 시즌3(이하 슈스케)' 2차 예선 불합격. 전화로 합격자 통보를 해준다는 7일 혹시나 하는 마음으로 휴대전화를 쳐다보고 있었지만 전화벨은 끝내 울리지 않았다. ARS로 진행된 1차 예선에서 의외로 쉽게 합격해 기대했지만 2차 예선에서 너무 긴장해 가사를 까먹은 것이 못내 아쉬웠다. 슈스케K는 국내 오디션 열풍을 불러일으킨 프로그램으로 이번 시즌3의 1차 예선에만 전국에서 200만여명이 지원했다. 지난 2, 3일 잠실실내체육관에서 열린 서울 2차 예선에는 1차에서 통과한 8만명이 경합했다. 기자는 일반 지원자로 참가해 2차 예선까지 올랐다. 평범한 사람들에게 인생역전의 무대로 떠오른 슈스케의 생생한 예선 참가기를 소개한다.

1차 예선 '왜 이리 쉬워'

슈스케3 1차 예선은 ARS(자동응답시스템) 방식이다. 응시에 자격제한이 없고 필요한 개인정보도 전화번호와 주민등록번호 앞자리 뿐이어서 누구나 쉽게 참가할 수 있다. 걸리는 시간도 2분 정도다. 다만 노래는 1분 이상 불러야 한다. 지난달 25일 집에서 평소 즐겨부르던 SG워너비의'Timeless'로 도전했다. 집에 아무도 없을 것을 확인하고 노래를 불렀지만 녹음을 마치고 민망함에 얼굴이 빨개졌다. 1주일 후 '설마 붙었겠어'라고 생각하며 확인해보니 전화기 너머로 '축하합니다. 합격하셨습니다'라는 슈스케2 우승자 허각의 목소리가 흘려나왔다. 나중에 다른 참가자들의 말을 들어보니 1차 예선은 이상한 장난만 치지 않으면 거의 다 붙는다고.

2차 예선 기다림과의 싸움

2차 예선은 3일 잠실실내체육관에서 치렀다. 서울 지역은 8만명이 1차를 통과해 2일(3만명), 3일(5만명) 이틀로 나눠 진행됐다. 실내체육관에 입장해야 하는 시간은 오전 10시. 시간에 맞춰 2호선 종합운동장역에 도착하니 역 안에서부터 줄이 길게 늘어서 있었다. 한 시간을 기다려 오전 11시에 예선장에 입장, 'O-277번'이라는 참가번호를 받았다. 입장 이후에도 기다림의 연속이었다. 낮 12시30분까지 오프닝 촬영을 기다려야 했고 이후에는 전광판에 뜬 참가번호를 보며 차례를 기다렸다. 결국 8시간을 기다려 오후 6시께 심사위원 앞에 설 수 있었다.
기다림에 지쳐 포기하는 지원자들도 많았다. 오후 5시가 넘어가자 꽉 차있던 실내체육관 좌석 곳곳에 빈 자리가 늘어나기 시작했다. 친구들과 함께 예선장을 찾은 박준수(15)군은 "친구 3명이 같이 왔는데 나만 남고 나머지는 집에 가버렸다"고 말했다.

김밥 사기도 오디션만큼 치열

예선장에서 예상 외의 복병을 만났다. 도시락을 챙겨오지 않은 것. 오프닝 촬영이 끝나는 오후 1시까지 참가자들은 밖으로 나갈 수 없었다. 목이 말라도 음료수조차 살 수 없는 것. 이런 상황을 어떻게 알았는지 상인들이 김밥과 음료수를 철제 셔터 사이로 팔았다. 단무지와 시금치, 당근만 들어간 빈약한 김밥이 3000원, 얼음물은 1000원이었다. 그럼에도 배고픈 사람들이 많아 금세 팔려나갔다. 점심시간이 되자 김밥은 4000원, 얼음물은 2000원으로 가격이 1000원씩 올랐다. 도시락을 싸온 참가자들은 굶고 있는 사람들이 안쓰러웠던지 먹을거리를 나눠주기도 했다. 기자도 한 참가자가 나눠 준 구운 계란으로 허기를 달랬다.

예선장은 노래방

예선이 치러진 실내체육관은 거대한 노래방을 방불케했다. 참가자들은 복도·주차장·야외벤치 등 장소를 가리지 않고 악기를 연주하거나 노래를 불렀다. 다들 남의 시선에 상관없이 큰 소리로 노래를 불렀다. 복도에서 기타 연주를 하던 김동재(23)씨는 "잘하는 사람이 많아 보인다"며 "통과하기가 쉽지 않을 것 같다"고 말했다. 기자도 처음에는 한 쪽 구석에서 작게 노래를 부르다 나중에는 걸어다니며 큰 소리로 노래를 부를 정도로 분위기에 빠져들었다.

100초의 승부

나갈 차례가 다가오자 긴장감에 몸이 떨렸다. 접수대에서 자기소개서를 작성하고 부스 앞에 섰다. 직전까지 노래를 들으며 가사를 봤는데도 불안했다. 8시간을 기다렸지만 주어진 시간은 100초에 불과했다. 부스 안에는 남녀 심사위원 두 명이 앉아 있었다. 자기소개를 하려는데 여자 심사위원이 "후렴구부터 바로 시작하세요"라고 말했다. 준비곡은 윤도현밴드의 '너를 보내고'. 긴장한 상태에서 한참을 부르다보니 점점 가사가 꼬였다. 결국 가사를 까먹고 말았다. 여자 심사위원은 지체없이 "그만하세요"라고 말했다. 13일간의 슈스케3 도전이 끝나는 순간이었다.

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